We took advantage of £55 return flights, from Manchester and Gatwick respectively, to meet up at Berlin Schönefeld Airport and then spend 48 hours in Berlin, in the name of fabulous.
If you’re prepared to take only carry on, it’s amazing how quick and easy the trip is. The flight is only an hour and a half, and the train into Berlin proper a fifty-five minute ride from the airport station.
In 48 hours we managed to: discover the best selection of second hand and vintage sweaters, eat a giant schnitzel; check out the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery; encounter a hybrid manbun-hippy hot spot; take in the off-beat exhibits at the small but perfectly formed DDR museum; scoff nougat filled breakfast pastries (#yum); hang-out in Kreuzberg (known locally by Berliner Hipsters as as X-Berg); and drink smelly beer that tasted of smoked cheese. It’s easy to see why Berlin is known as one of the hippest cities in Europe.
We flew Easyjet and bought VBB Berlin Welcome Cards at the airport Tourist Information, which is the other side of Customs. The cards last 48 hours, cost €21.50 each and allow you to use all modes of public transport in Berlin including: the U-Bahn /S-Bahn train systems, buses, night buses, trams etc. You also get discounts at some of the major tourist attractions, for example: the Fernsehturm tower, with 360 degree city views. Usefully, you receive a little pocket guide, plus hard copy city and transport maps. VVB also has an app you can download to your phone to help plot journeys.
We stayed at boutique Ku’Damm 101 hotel and got a value rate through booking.com. Prices at the moment seem to start at £66 p/n for a room. Get the train from the airport to Halensee (S45 line) and the hotel is just under 10 minutes walk straight along the Kurfürstendamm shopping boulevard. The area surrounding the hotel is full of stunning Eastern Bloc apartment buildings that are fascinating but, in an area that’s predominately a concrete shade of grey, this modern colourful hotel is a cheerful and warm beacon. It has an aroma steam room and thermal lounger in the wellbeing centre, if you don’t fancy venturing out into the cold at this time of year. And after a long day of walking and seeing the city, there’s a cute cocktail bar on the ground floor. We think this hotel is a total bargain.
Day one: the low down on Ku’Damm
This is a smart, relatively upmarket residential area with: lots of pleasant coffee shops, designer shops, some fine dining, neon-signed 1980s style cocktail bars, plenty of pharmacies, grocery shops and so on. So if you’ve forgotten any essentials or have a retail emergency, everything you might need is there. Also, there’s a ‘One Euro’ store on the same corner as the hotel. (A bit like our UK Poundland), so when we say you can get everything you need, we mean it. That includes German Mills and Boon style 1€ novels with the best kitsch covers ever. Did you know that when the Berlin Wall came down, staff from Mills and Boon’s West German office handed out 750,000 free copies to women from East Germany?!
The Ku’Damm area is a great choice if you’re a woman traveling alone. It’s chilled and not too touristy, although there are a few other hotels scattered about. It felt safe, with lots of activity in the day and brightly lit streets at night.
When in Ku’Damm, make sure you have a wander down some of the side streets though, especially towards Charlottenberg. There are interesting buildings everywhere, with independent shops and cafes on the ground floors of apartment buildings.
By chance we happened on vintage and second hand shop Humana on Lewishamstraße 1. The excellent range of stock and colour-coded rails are highly seductive. Right now there’s an amazing selection of winter coats and Faroe Island style jumpers that could out-class the best of Sarah Lund’s wardrobe. Although, don’t confuse this with a charity shop as it is a for profit organization branded and marketed in a charity-ish way. (There’s a huge and well-stocked Oxfam on Kurfürstendamm if you want to know exactly where your money is going). That said Humana is reasonably priced. It would be easy to spend hours in there rummaging and trying on everything. We spent ages cooing over various garments and, with the temperature dropping to 4 degrees on day one, both of us left having purchased snuggly angora hats that perfectly matched our outfits, and at just a few Euros each. We both decided it’d almost be worth flying in for the day just to stock up on the knits, as Humana rails are first-rate, and at prices from €3-€45 euros, what is not to liebe!
Just up the same road as Humana, you’ll notice Erotic Point, home to a sex shop and erotic museum. The building – a post-war housing block – is interesting to look at and a photographer’s dream. But we gave the museum itself a miss as the reviews are mixed. Berlin does have a ‘damn-sexy’ reputation and if more contemporary and fashion-forward erotica or saucy luxury underwear is your bag we recommend checking out the post on erotica in Berlin over on ‘IheartBerlin’
Later on day one, we also had a leisurely stroll along the Kurfürstendamm, which is much like London’s Bond Street and window-shopped in the likes of Prada, Stefanel, and Dior, but keeping our eyes peeled for German designers. It’s easy to forget Karl Lagerfeld is German and not French because he is so synonymous with Chanel, so it was heartening to see his own brand store has a prime spot on the boulevard.
Chloe bought cashmere tights to combat the chilly 4 degrees from lux German hosiery company Faulke, a brand she’s crazy about. They’re €30-ish a pair, but if, like her, you feel the cold we can assure you these are the warmest, softest tights you’ll every buy and they last for ages, if washed carefully. There’s also a Butlers home store: another fabulous high street design-conscious brand from Cologne.
We ate a late lunch at Dressler: an elegant, old-fashioned 1930s style café serving classic Berlin cuisine and pizzas. It has a comprehensive selection of wines – mostly German, good coffee and some beers. You can eat at the bar area or on one of the crisp white clothed tables, and there were a few people on their own, so this is a nice spot in our opinion for solo travellers. We had 2 glasses of wine, 2 main courses, and 2 coffees for €55. The Riesling is excellent, as were the vegetarian pumpkin dumplings, potato and cucumber salad and schnitzel. There’s a ‘business lunch’ 2-course menu, which will set you back even less. We also stopped for coffee earlier in the day at Einstein’s, a stylish German chain: think Starbucks-meets small-batch. The interiors are fairly unremarkable in the world of coffee bar chains, but the coffee is excellent and the window seats are great for people watching the uber-wealthy of Berlin.
Having both got up around 5am that day to catch our flights and having walked miles, we only ventured as far Da Haus der 100 Biere. This place is the polar opposite of everything chic you may have heard about Berlin nightlife and with an average food menu. However the shining glory is the beer menu that borders on astounding. It’s also a friendly and an innocuous option if you’re somewhat nervous or uncomfortable about having a beer out on your own. There were a few families eating late bratwurst and chips suppers when we popped in, plus you only need skip over the road to get home. We got heavily into the delicious and sweet Berliner Weisse with green and red syrups (be careful with this – it tastes like pop and not at all alcoholic but it is 3.3 %) and it was also here that Chloe tried a special Bavarian Weihenstephan, a dark and malodorous beer.
Day two: East Berlin hipster trail
Berlin has so much to see and do that we reckon one could easily spend a week gallivanting about and not get bored. Chloe had a penchant for the Bauhaus Museum and Ruth was keen to see the Holocaust Memorial at the Brandenburg Gate and take in some of the locations from the Weimar era: the hedonistic world of Christopher Isherwood’s book, ‘Goodbye To Berlin’, captured so perfectly in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film, ‘Cabaret’. Yet we felt that these were things that tlfw and fabulous women could easily find in a Lonely Planet or pocket travel guide. Nevertheless, we also felt strongly that it was unacceptable to come to Berlin and not see ‘the wall’. We skipped the formal touristy memorial and instead headed east of the River Spree to Friedrichshain, one of the city’s less developed neighbourhoods, to find East Side Gallery.
After the Wall came down in 1989, hundreds of artists from all over the world gathered and transformed the eastside of the Wall that had been untouchable up to now, with their paintings, giving the Wall a new face in a new time.
To get to the East Side Gallery, head to Ostbahnhof (S5) and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the amazing and colourful Galeria Kaufhof a department store building. It’s a real site to behold. There’s a little flea market too and proper everyday market with dubious throwback fashions such as dodgy rock T-shirts and badly cut denim. This area does not have any real tourist attractions, but is a hub for makeshift bars and cool pubs including the upside-down leftfield Madame Claude.
Friedrichshain initiated us to the never-ending stretches of some of the Berlin streets. Take heed; sometimes distances on the map are much further than expected. It was also here, whilst crossing one of the vast Straßes, that we noticed several men not just with man-buns and beards, but at the same time wearing tie-dyed trousers and carrying home made didgeridoos. We christened then the Manbippy. This hybrid neatly sums up the ambience of Friedrichshain
We also found lots of yummy food kiosks known as imbiss: basically small food stands or street food shops. Don’t be put off by the exteriors as they can look a tad scruffy, but these are loved by locals for a quick cheap bite – so the food has to be good. From Ostbahnhof to Galaria Kaufhof there are beautiful warm fresh breads, cakes, currywurst, kebabs, Turkish food and pastries. It was hard to make a decision on what to eat.
Our one concession to the tourist trail was to jump back on the train to Alexanderplatz to visit the DDR Museum (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) a curated homage to ostalgie. If you’re at all right brained and into design and fashion, this is one for you. We loved it! This place is best described as a collection of every day life and things. We listened to very bad pop and heavy rock on headphones whilst following the painted dance steps on the floor. We rummaged through the wardrobes pulling out polyester mustard skirts and crazy Frank Spencer style tank tops. The eastern look has been accurately described as an act of subtle resistance through the expression of style. There’s lots of wonderful photography too from Sybille magazine (the Vogue of the East). If this is your bag we recommend reading this post on stylehigh that Chloe discovered in the name of research. There were other odd attempts at interactivity, clearly aimed at school trips, including a handle that waved pennants in a parade when you turned it. We suggest you get there early or late as said school trips ensure it is busy and key attractions, like the Trabant car and fully recreated East German lounge and kitchen, are crowded with people with overly large backpacks taking selfies.
Lunch was 5 minutes away at Emmas in a modern courtyard complex. It’s good value German comfort food with several vegetarian options. The temperature was really dropping at this point so we filled our stomachs with mashed potato, baked cheese, salads and Dunkel: a warming, caramelish dark beer. The service at Emma’s is great. A major asset of Berlin is the people. They are incredibly friendly and helpful. Our waiter saw us studying our train map and hurried off to get his phone to show us how to get up-to-date schedules and plot routes easily with an app.
Next up we took the U-train to Kottbusser Tor station to visit Kreuzberg, one of Berlin’s trendier areas that has undergone gentrification in the last few years, and reminded us both of Shoreditch. Here we made the pilgrimage to lorded lifestyle boutique Voo.
The space is beautiful. It stocks an edit of high-end international labels like ACNE, APC and Maison Margiela, sunglasses, graphic design zines, scented candles and posh nic-nacs; in an open plan, airy, tiled building with an adjoining zen-like coffee place Companion Coffee, which was really bustling with arty types having intense conversations. But perhaps Voo has been a victim of its own success as there’s a feeling of homogeneity about it: there are very similar stores to be found in Milan, Brooklyn and Singapore for instance.
On route to Voo, and by accident, we discovered Ritchie (Oranienstraße 174), which seemed somehow more cheerful and authentic, and certainly cheaper. This is a great little shop with a decent second hand edit (Valentino sweater €99) and a bohemian-toned line of ethical brands and new garments from about €40, such as old skool rave label Komodo (British btw!) We loved the wooly alpine leggings and embroidered bomber jackets.
The thirdwave coffee scene is big in Berlin, but we also decided to forgo style over substance here and had good old- fashioned style barista coffee and creamy rich German cake in the eccentric Die Imaginäre Manufaktur shop which is exceedingly cosy. The former site of the Municpal House of Blind People, the shop sells an array of brushes and tools crafted by the employees and pupils of the new school, displayed in beautiful old wooden cabinets on the walls. The staff, some of whom have sight impairments, were more than welcoming, even though it seemed a popular destination for the locals. This is only a few doors down from Voo next to a bookshop and the building that houses the mysterious The Museum de Dinge on its 3rd floor. If you weren’t looking for this, you’d miss it. A hard to find entrance leads you to three flights of beautifully tiled staircase, before being met by a large wooden door and a vending machine offering anything from hair rollers to plastic forks.
As we skipped back to the station we picked up a box of Turkish pastries from Kilicoglu Baklavaci, one of the many authentic cafes by the station, to nibble on the way back to Ku’Damm for just €3 for half a dozen. One thing is for sure you won’t go hungry in Berlin.
Berlin is a cosmopolitan and multicultural city for everyone. In our opinion it richly deserves its reputation as one of Europe’s most happening metropolis. The Berliners we encountered were friendly and helpful. Public transport is efficient, and eating and drinking are good value. We both agreed that 48 hours simply wasn’t long enough and would like to return – for starters to experience the city’s diverse art gallery scene, the deluxe bars and hangouts by the river in the summer months and to check out the outdoor pools and retro lidos of which there are many. Bring on the summer we say.
Ditch the carry on and take a half empty suitcase to fill with amazing knitwear for winter. Berlin is a fabulous place to stock up on unusual and chic winter clothing. For us it was all about the jumpers!